11/06/2011 12:13PM

Breeders' Cup string of surprises scrambles Horse of the Year picture

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Bill Mott is losing some of the biggest stars in his stable, including Breeders' Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The blankets of flowers that were draped over the withers of Drosselmeyer and Royal Delta following their Breeders’ Cup wins hung over a sawhorse outside trainer Bill Mott’s barn on Sunday morning at Churchill Downs, testament to him having won the biggest races of the weekend here, the Ladies’ Classic on Friday, and the Classic on Saturday.

“I’m content, I suppose. For the moment,” Mott said Sunday morning. “It doesn’t last long in this business.”

And changes are a-coming for him. Drosselmeyer is scheduled to be retired and go to stud, Royal Delta is days away from being sold as part of an estate dispersal, and Courageous Cat, who was mugged by Goldikova in the Mile – “They about dropped his ass,” Mott said – also could be retired to stud.

“I could be wiped out,” Mott said.

Speaking of wipe outs, this was an unpredictable Breeders’ Cup that left unanswered a slew of Eclipse Award categories, most notably Horse of the Year.

Some of the leading candidates for that honor ran in the Classic, with Game On Dude finishing second, Havre de Grace fourth, and Flat Out fifth.

“I think we’re still in it,” Larry Jones, the trainer of Havre de Grace, said Sunday morning. “At the Eclipse Awards, we’ll all still be biting our nails. I still feel we’re the front-runner.”

Havre de Grace was tired after the race, and left some feed in the tub, Jones said. She is going to get a vacation – first at Vinery in Lexington, where she was sent Sunday, and later in Ocala, Fla. - before joining Jones’s barn at Fair Grounds at the beginning of the year.

Game On Dude is heading back to California and is unlikely to race again this year. But Flat Out could make another start, trainer Scooter Dickey said Sunday morning.

“He’s fine. We’ll probably nominate to the Clark,” he said of the important race for older horses here on Nov. 25.

As for Horse of the Year, Dickey candidly said, “I don’t think there is one.”

Had Drosselmeyer done more this year prior to the Classic than win just one minor stakes race at Belmont Park he might be in the discussion. His victory at 14-1 capped a day punctuated by upset winners. Afleet Again was a 41-1 surprise in the Marathon, Wrote was 11-1 in the Juvenile Turf, Amazombie was nearly 8-1 in the Sprint, Caleb’s Posse 6-1 in the Dirt Mile, and Hansen 7-1 in the Juvenile.

But no winner was more improbable than Court Vision, who won the Mile at 64-1 as the longest shot in the 13-horse field.

His victory, combined with the mild 6-1 surprise of St Nicholas Abbey in the Turf, likely leaves Cape Blanco and Acclamation as the leading candidates for the male turf title, and both are likely to receive support for Horse of the Year, too.

Goldikova’s failure in the Mile, and Friday’s upset win by Perfect Shirl in the Filly and Mare Turf, leaves the Eclipse Award for female grass horse an unsatisfying choice, especially since the Grade 1 wins by Stacelita look far more suspect in hindsight.

Ruler On Ice, Stay Thirsty, or Uncle Mo would have made serious bids for the 3-year-old male title had any won the Classic. Stay Thirsty still is in the mix, as is Ruler On Ice and fellow Triple Crown race winners Animal Kingdom and Shackleford. But attention must also be paid to Caleb’s Posse, who, like Shackleford, ran all year, and  soundly defeated Shackleford in the Dirt Mile for his second Grade 1 win of the year.

Caleb’s Posse likely will get plenty of support for champion sprinter, too, but the favorite in that category has to be Amazombie. Another who could get votes is Regally Ready, who captured the Turf Sprint and was the only favorite to prevail in the nine Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday.

The debate for the male 2-year-old title may be as close as the margin of victory between Hansen and Union Rags, who had a thriller in the Juvenile. Dickey said that Union Rags might have been seriously considered for Horse of the Year had he gotten up, in light of what subsequently played out in the Classic.

Another horse who might get some votes for Horse of the Year is Juvenile Fillies winner My Miss Aurelia, simply because of her perfect record.

It’s that kind of year.